Cappellano

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A referral from one great producer often leads to another equally exceptional producer who, more often than not, shares our particular philosophy. In the case of the Cappellano estate in Serralunga d’Alba in the Langhe, we were introduced to Augusto Cappellano by our friends at the Podere Le Boncie (Giovanna Morganti and family and friends) in Tuscany. Le Boncie and Cappellano participate (along with the Bea family of Umbria and others) in a group known as “Vini Veri”, producers who share an ethic about viticulture and viniculture that is as much philosophical as it is about organic farming. After months of multiple conversations and correspondence amongst and between the participants, we gathered at the Cappellano cantina in late November, 2011 to taste and get to know one another. The result is that we now happily and proudly represent the wines of the Cappellano estate on an exclusive basis in the United States.

Augusto Cappellano is the fifth generation of the family to produce wine from vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba. His great-grandfather, Filippo, acquired substantial acreage there and, in 1870 established the azienda. At his death, his son, Giovanni, an oenologue, continued his father’s work, selling their wine to clients from Liguria through Piedmont. Giovanni’s brother, Giuseppe, was a pharmacist who created the family formula for their famous (then and again now) Barolo Chinato, the Barolo infused with a variety of “medicines”. Giovanni died in 1912 from a tropical fever contracted in Tunisia, perhaps while he was looking for vines that were not susceptible to phylloxera. Giuseppe then retired from his pharmaceutical chores to run the estate and he decided to sell his grapes to the Gancia company, one of the major wine producers in the Langhe. To continue the story, Giuseppe passed away in 1955. Shortly thereafter, Augusto’s father, Teobaldo, who was born and raised in Eritrea, returned to Serralunga to revive the azienda. He rebuilt the cantina and the image of Cappellano as well – this time much smaller in size (four hectares) but far more grand in quality. In his turn, he also produced once again the extraordinary Barolo Chinato using the ancient family recipe, all the while becoming one of the most admired and respected figures in the Barolo district. Augusto now takes the reins and will now place his special mark on the wines of this estate. We are very pleased to begin our collaboration with Augusto Cappellano.

The four hectares of vineyards owned by the Cappellano family are principally in Serralunga d’Alba and are supplemented by a small parcel in the neighboring village of Novello from which Cappellano produces his Nebiolo d’Alba. The vineyards in Serralunga are situated in the Gabutti cru which is on the western slopes of Serralunga at approximately 300 meters altitude. The land is farmed according to organic principles and the production of the wine is accomplished following the credo of “Vini Veri”: indigenous yeasts are relied upon, the use of sulfur is strictly limited, vinification is traditional (long fermentation, extended aging in large, old botte) and the wine is not filtered prior to bottling. The Barolo Chinato is produced by following the family recipe handed down generation to generation. The “medicinal” herbs and spices are ground using a stone mortar and pestle. Both the recipe and the process are family secrets.

Cappellano-back-label-DOLCETTO-DALBA Dolcetto d’Alba: There is a very limited amount of Dolcetto d’Alba produced at the estate. The tiny parcel of Dolcetto is in the Gabutti cru. The wine is aged for about one year prior to bottling and is released shortly thereafter.
Cappellano-BACK-label-BARBERA-DALBA-GABUTTI Barbera d’Alba: The situation for the Barbera is similar to that of the Dolcetto: grapes are sourced from a small parcel within the Gabutti cru in Serralunga d’Alba and production is exceedingly limited. In this instance, the wine is aged longer prior to release to give it additional time to define its identity.
Cappellano-back-label-NEBIOLO Nebiolo d’Alba: Notice that the Cappellano family has always referred to this grape variety with a single “b”, thus “Nebiolo”. The vines for this wine are in the neighboring village of Novello. Again, there is a very small production that complements the two stellar examples of Barolo that are produced at the cantina.
cappellano-Barolo-Pie-Rupestris-back-label Barolo Otin Fiorin Rupestris: This is the principal Barolo of the estate, at least in terms of quantity produced. The vineyard is the Gabutti cru and the exposure is south to southwest. After an extended fermentation and considerable aging in the classic “botte” of the region, the wine is bottled without filtration. The rhythm of the release is usually four to four and one-half years after the harvest. Stylistically, the wine is an honest and pure reflection of the terroir of this small but important cru: earthy, truffled aromas marry to a full-bodied, occasionally rustic character backed by rugged, classic tannins. The Barolos of Serralunga are known for their generosity and warmth and the “Rupestris” is as fine an example as one can find.
Cappellano-BACK-label-BAROLO-PIE-FRANCO-MICHET Barolo Otin Fiorin Pie Franco: Cappellano produces a limited bottling from vines that are original pre-phylloxera rootstock. Although planted in the same Gabutti cru, the wine itself can be dramatically different than the “Rupestris”, its brother wine, all this due to the difference between the “pre” and “post” phylloxera origins of the vines. There is an “exoticism” perhaps to the “Pie Franco”, an ethereal element to its aromas and flavors that make this a unique offering … clearly a rare and special experience.
AB Normal 2016

Cappellano AB Normal Vino Rosso NV: Occasionally we are presented with a wine that falls a little outside the normal progression of vintages from a particular grower. These might come about due to an extreme vintage, a strange development during vinification or elevage, or something completely out of the realm of the normal course of cellar work. In the spring of 2016, we will release a small quantity of one such anomaly, from the cellar of Augusto Cappellano. The wine was actually vinified by his father, the late Teobaldo Cappellano, as it comes from the classic 2004 vintage. The wine itself is somewhat unusual to begin with, as it is sourced from old Barbera vines found in the heart of the famed Gabutti vineyard in Barolo. His neighbors have questioned him for years on the existence of these vines in such valuable Nebbiolo terroir, however Augusto feels that Barbera is equally at home in this environment and has let the vines continue to produce. The current release of the Barbera d’Alba “Gabutti” is the 2011, however the spring release will include this small batch of 2004 to accompany it.

The older wine has not been sitting around in bottle all this time; one 1500-liter barrel was left full of the 2004 vintage Barbera for an astonishing ten years, before being put into bottle in 2015. The aging regimen disqualifies it from any appellation norms, thus the wine loses the right to be called Barbera d’Alba, or to even carry a vintage designation for that matter. To come up with a name, Augusto referenced the classic Mel Brooks film “Young Frankenstein” and the abnormal brain that played a pivotal role in that movie. The character Igor mistakenly supplies Dr. Frankenstein with a brain that he believes belongs to “Abby Normal”, not realizing that it is actually an “Abnormal” brain, not to be used. The name of the wine is thus “AB Normal” in a subtle wink to this scene.

Cappellano-CINATO

Barolo Chinato: One cannot say much, certainly not enough, about the Chinato from Cappellano since the production and recipe are closely held secrets within the family. Suffice it to say that the family has produced an iconic version of this wine infused with spices, herbs and other earthly elements that make for a ravishing sensory experience. Here are a duo of ways to enjoy the Cappellano Chinato …

  • As an aperitif: 4 parts gin, 4 parts Campari, 2 parts Chinato, a touch of ice plus a slice of orange.
  • As a “thirst quencher”: cold sparkling water plus 10% of the volume in Chinato with the juice of a freshly squeezed lime accompanied by a slice of lime.And, Augusto Cappellano reminds us: don’t forget the pleasure of drinking the Chinato accompanied by the best chocolate one can find!

Cappellano’s Gorgeous and Graceful 2014s

Each new release from the tiny Cappellano estate in Serralunga d’Alba is a cause for celebration. Although they have never courted the press—the legendary late Teobaldo Cappellano famously forbade critics from scoring his wines—they have developed a riotously enthusiastic following over the years for their uncompromisingly traditional, scintillatingly pure creations. Today, in the Langhe, the style pendulum thankfully seems to be shifting away from the mania for new wood and intrusive technology which swept the region in the 1990s and 2000s. However, how much more special is it to encounter a grower like Cappellano—one who never succumbed in the first place? Baldo above all prized wine’s connection to the earth and to humanity, and he saw his work as that of an artist rather than a purveyor of commercial goods. Today, ten years after his sudden passing, his son Augusto carries on his father’s spirit in his own thoughtful, sensitive, remarkably warm manner. To witness Augusto’s evolution over the past decade has been moving—from a young man clearly deeply mourning his larger-than-life father’s presence to a grower with a crystal-clear vision of both the tradition which flows through him and of the kind of wine he wants to craft. The small changes he has made—slightly shortening the passage in botti due to a warming climate hastening the wines’ evolution; pruning less aggressively with a mind to prolonging the lifespan of his vines—have only served to enhance the purity of his wines without at all compromising their proudly old-school spirit.

The famously difficult 2014 vintage provided Augusto with his biggest challenge yet, but the wines he wrested from such a punishingly tough, labor-intensive season are chilling in their elegance. The severe sorting such a vintage required means that quantities—already minuscule even in a normal year—are down significantly, but those fortunate enough to access Cappellano’s 2014s will find them to be sublime. Wisely, rather than trying to compensate for inherently lighter-bodied fruit, Augusto employed a slightly gentler-than-usual extraction in order not to draw unwanted elements into the juice. The ensuing wines are ethereal yet not lacking for concentration, offering immense early-drinking pleasure but with layers of subtle profundity which suggest good ageability. We eagerly await their arrival at the end of this month.

2014 Barbera d’Alba “Gabutti”
Frequently, Barbera in the Langhe is treated either very simplistically, with a vinification and brief passage in stainless steel, or very lavishly, with heavy-handed extraction and long ageing in small, often new oak barrels. Cappellano, however, takes a simpler approach: he treats it just like his Barolo, with a lengthy maceration and a multi-year passage in large neutral botti. The resultant wine is always astonishing in its depth, showing the complexity this variety can achieve when grown in a great terroir such as Gabutti and treated with unflashy reverence. Vintage after vintage, it stands as a benchmark, and the 2014 is striking in its chiseled clarity. Beautiful, mouthwatering acidity melds seamlessly into a tightly focused core of bright, tangy red fruits, which are offset by cleanly articulated soil notes and an enveloping sensation of exotic spices. Its equilibrium is utterly perfect, and while other vintages might offer slightly greater amplitude, this 2014 is irresistible in its sleekness and energy.

2014 Barolo “Pie Rupestris”
Since the pernicious vine disease flavescenza dorata decimated Cappellano’s small holdings in the nearby town of Novello (the source of their Dolcetto d’Alba, basic Barbera d’Alba, and “Nebiolo” for some years), their three hectares in the fabled Serralunga d’Alba cru of Gabutti are all that remain. And, of those three hectares, the Nebbiolo planted on the lower third of the slope is used entirely for the Barolo Chinato (see below)—meaning that this Barolo comprises only the heart of their holdings. (It is worth noting that Cappellano conspicuously excludes the word “Gabutti” from this Barolo as a mild gesture of protest against the expansion of the cru’s boundaries some years back.) The 2014, fermented naturally in cement and aged for two and a half years in very large botti, shows a similarly captivating sense of balance as the Barbera above. That classic Serralunga brashness shows itself in an assertively earthy presence, along with bass notes of deep, woodsy spice, but the overall impression is one of finesse and freshness. The interplay of musky flowers, resonant acidity, and savory minerality is thrilling, and the wine is delineated and accessible even at this young age.

2014 Barolo “Pie Franco”
One of the rarest and most coveted wines in the Langhe, Cappellano’s Barolo “Pie Franco” comes from a miniscule section of their Gabutti holdings which Teobaldo planted to ungrafted Nebbiolo in 1989. Fortunately for all of us, the vines have managed to survive, and the wine they produce provides an endlessly fascinating counterpart to the “Pie Rupestris” above. Although it is produced in exactly the same fashion, “Pie Franco” is unfailingly more ethereal, silkier in texture, and more complex overall—compelling one to imagine what Barolo might have been like before the ravages of phylloxera. If Barolo and Burgundy are sometimes conceived of as cousins of a sort for their ability to convey nuances of terroir with unparalleled complexity and beauty, “Pie Franco” makes that connection far more literal, particularly in such a lithe vintage as 2014. This version is simply mesmerizing in its elegance, with a lighter color and a gentler tannic presence than the “Pie Rupestris,” but with an enveloping panoply of aromas that prompts goosebumps, and a palate presence both commanding and achingly caressing. Though it is unmistakably Barolo, it stands nearly outside category.

Barolo Chinato
The spellbinding elixir known as Barolo Chinato was actually invented by the Cappellano family, with Giuseppe Cappellano—a pharmacist by trade—developing the recipe in the late 19th century as a digestive aid. The still-top-secret, carefully guarded recipe was passed down from Giuseppe to his son Francesco, then to his son Teobaldo, and finally to Augusto. The recipe has remained unchanged since the earliest days, transferred ceremoniously via handwritten letter during each generational shift. Augusto still crushes the herbs and spices by hand with the family’s old cast-iron mortar and pestle, and the steps to creating the perfect mixture are complex and difficult—Augusto told us it took him years, beginning as a young child, to master the technique. Happily, the results of this arcane process are nothing short of sublime, as Cappellano’s Chinato blitzes the senses with overwhelming complexity—the nose of the stuff alone is worth the price of admission. On the palate, the Chinato’s marked sweetness is buffered by its sheer depth—after all, 50% of the blend is traditionally vinified and aged single-vintage Barolo. A heady mélange of herbs and spices, coupled with the elixir’s rich, chocolatey depths, pull both mouth and mind in infinite directions, but the whole experience is still balanced, composed, and just flat-out delicious. Those granted the privilege of accessing the Cappellano family’s sublime wines are strongly urged to explore the Chinato as well, as it is a vital constituent of the estate’s overall production.

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